[CONAN] Thoughts on a Barbarian Economy

Some of you know that my campaign focusses on a clan of Cimmerian Barbarians.

I've been wondering how the economic system works. First off, a few notes about the clan:

1. They're a trading clan. They're known for their steel weapons, and the clan trades with other clans for what it needs. This trade isn't making anybody rich--these are still Cimmerians living in little round hovels, most with rock walls and thatched roofs. But, the clan has made enough over the last couple of decades that they haven't needed to raid their neighbors for the things they need.

2. The clan is remote, located in the northern Cimmerian, centrally located in the foothills of the Eiglophian Mountains, on the south side of the Vanir-Aesir border. So, trade is usually limited to that with other Cimmerian clans, although the clan does have an agreement with an Aesir clan, which provides their main source of iron-ore.

3. Therefore, trade is usually done through barter. The Cimmerians use and understand the value of coins, and they accept them sometimes--especially if the Cimmerians do a lot of trade. But, your average Cimmerian who usually only trades with his clansmen will not accept coin as payment.

4. Cimmerians value practical items. They want things that they can eat--things that will keep them warm. Weapons are prized. Armor is typically not valued high, but helms, shields, and light armor holds the most value. Things like jewelry and non-practical clothing holds little value for a Cimmerian. He's interesting in things that will help him stay alive in the harsh enviornment of his homeland.

What I've been doing is allowing the PCs to roll weekly wealth, when they're in the village and not on an adventure, using the 3.5 Craft rules. You basically make a skill check, and the total of your roll is how many silver pieces the character earned that week.

Instead of silver pieces, I call the wealth "trade units". It's not coin the character it gaining, it's a good pair of winter boots, three rabbit pelts, an iron helm, and a freshly strung hunting bow. Barter system.

So, for example, one of my PCs is a Trapper. So, once a week, when the character is in the village the entire week, the player will roll a Craft Trapping skill check, the result giving the PC some wealth in trade units.

These trade units the character uses to buy supplies and equipment he needs from his kinsmen.

OK, so here's my question....

Given all I've said above, how do you think the economic system works within the single-village clan?

I'm thinking that there is a semi-socialistic set-up. The trapper, for example, goes out and gathers the animals from the traps. Some of these he keeps for himself. Half, he gives to the clan (to feed the non-hunters, like the old lady who makes clothes for people, or the tanner who works with the animals the PC brings him).

This means that, when a weekly wealth check is made, the amount to the PC is reduced by 50% to account for what he has given away to the clan.

What do you guys think of this? Do you have a better idea on how to run wealth in this game? Do you think a Cimmerian clan would operate a different way?

I'm open to ideas as I haven't yet locked this idea down in my game.

EDIT: Population. There are 336 people in the entire clan. 140 live in the village. The rest live in outlying homesteads.

In the village, there are 63 children, 49 warriors, 25 elders, and 2 clansmen in their twilight years.

In the entire clan, there are 151 children, 118 warriors, 60 elders, and 7 clansmen in their twilight years.

Since most of the clansmen trade among themselves, this will give you an idea of the size of the market.
A related question I'm considering in my game:

Since the PCs are barbarians, living away from civilazation, I've taken the advice given in the equipment sections of several of the Conan RPG books and inflated the prices. The recommendation (as in the Aquilonia sourcebook) is up to 20 times the price listed in the book.

I decided to go with a x5 and x10 modifier. If the PCs sold something to a trader (something they obtained on an adventure), he'd give them the book listed price (in trade units, of course, not silver). When the PCs bought something, I'd use the x5 modifier for common items and the x10 modifier for rare or prized items.

Of course, your players always hit you with a curveball, and one of my PCs is the apprentice smith in the village. So, when he wanted to sell a heavy mace he'd taken from an enemy, and the trader would only give him 3 trade units for it, the player asked what the trader would sell it for. I used my standard x10 modifier for the weapon, telling him 30 trade units.

The player said, "Well, I'll just put it up at the forge and sell it there."

Now, I've got a problem on my hands. I've got to reconcile items the player tries to sell specifically, like the mace, vs. the abstract method of obtaining wealth by rolling once per week on the character's skill.

So, how would you make that call in your game?

What I did, just off the cuff during our game, was tell the player that, due to the population and market, there's a low chance that it will sell quickly. People tend to get weapons that they like and keep them. I figured I'd get some use out of the often neglected 30 sided dice, so I told him the chance, per week, that the mace would sell is 1-in-30.

The player then--this is no lie--it happened last Saturday--picked up the 30 sider, tossed it across the table, and I was stunned when I saw the die land on the "1".

So, I gave the player his 30 trade units and made a note to myself to review how the trade system is going to work.

The question here is: How do you resolve selling loot the PCs capture on the battlefield against the abstract weekly wealth roll, given the conditions I've outlined about my game?

Is there a better way to handle this?
Nialldubh said:
I not think it should be reduced, the roll represents what he makes after other business is done!

Well, there needs to be a difference between what the guy can make in tradables with the Cimmerians and with whenever he travels across the Aquilonian border to ply his trade.

I don't think it should be the same.

I will put money (if I gambled) the the Player will not be rolling many '1s' on a d30 much! But that was justified, he won the roll, good for him, but it will be along time before he will see that happen again, as I stated!

Agreed. But, the question really is: Should the Heavy Mace sell be counting in the character's weekly roll? Or, should be be separate?

I'm starting to think it should be included in the weekly stuff--but count as a week's worth of work (the guy's off for a week because he doesn't have to create a new mace).

If you trying to stop them getting rich quick, put wear and tear on important things. Clothing, huts, broken wooden shafts for spears, etc. They need food also, if one collects meat, does he trade/barter vegetables and reduce his funds that way!

Already doing that. I had them roll last session to see if their clothes needed to be replaced!
Here's another related question....

If a character with the weaponsmith craft skill spends the week making a weapon, does he also get to roll for income that week?

Or, are those mutually exclusive rolls?
Here's a new angle to ponder....

First, no more selling specific items like I did with the Mace during our last game. The weekly throw represents what's sold and what's not.

If that's the case, then, I think the smith should be able to make his weekly check even if he's making a weapon that will take a long time to make--the difference being we'll never sell that weapon other than to say it's part of his weekly take.

Of course, that brings up the question of what to do with battlefield gains that the players want to sell. I think things that will bring big money, even if its over time, will just get the PC a bonus modifier on the throw--say a +2 for every major item.

And, we could say that the modifier can be no higher than the character's Profession skill.


You've got your young Cimmerian that goes out, adventures, and fights, bringing back some tradeables: a shield, a short sword, a dagger, and a waterskin.

The shield and shortsword are major items. Those are worth +2 on the throw each. The dagger and waterskin are not major items, together, they're worth +1 on the throw.

The character has never improved his Profession (Weaponsmith) skill, so he's limited to one item modifer per week (because it's a minimum of one). If he had a 3 ranks in Profession, then he could take the full +5 modifier because he could benefit from 3 items per week).

Since this smith has no ranks in his Profession skill, he'll get +2 on this Wealth check this week, +2 on his Wealth check next week, and +1 on his Wealth check the week after that.

This makes the Profession skill something the player may want to look into getting.

Crafting is about making stuff and that stuff's quality.

Profession is about running a business.

What do you think of that?
Nialldubh said:
Though I not think you need to restrict it by how many ranks they have, just give them the bonus on top of their weekly roll.

If I didn't restrict it somehow, they'd have +10 or more on every roll.

Plus, I think they'd be selling more than the market would buy. The market isn't that big, given the size of the clan and the brisk trade that is done.

I enjoy that bonus thing, but how that I starting to think of it, there is a big difference between a sword and mace, but maybe you made the mace to expensive if it was sold as trade-goods (ie 30 units) as Cimmerians are good at making weapons and Heavy Maces should be common place.

Even though they make them, there are two things to consider.

First, I put together a quck cheat sheet for my PC that is a smith. It will take him a long time to make some of those weapons--especialy swords.

Second, remember that, even though the Cimmerians can made the stuff, the raw materials are rare and expensive. The Cimmerians aren't miners. So, they must rely on the iron-ore that they get from the Aesir.

Both of those factors will keep weapons, especialy the expensive ones, rare.
Nialldubh said:
So 1 Trade Unit (TU) is 1sp.

So when the Smith Character traded Heavy Mace, he made 3 Trade Units and could trade with another for 1 Dagger (2sp/ 2 TU) and 1 knife (1sp/ 1 TU).

Except for inflated costs, using the x5 and x10 multipliers suggested in the Core rulebook, Beyond Thunder River, and in Tito's equipment book.

And your rolling 1d20 for Craft or Profession Skill: and for example a 10 is rolled, the PC would get 5 TU?

No, he gets a number of TU equal to his roll.

Let's say you've got a character with Craft (Trap Maker) +5. Once a week he rolls, or he can take 10. If he takes 10, he gets 15 TU per week.

That's in the Crafting rules. I'm just using TUs instead of SPs.

Let's say, after 3 weeks, your trapper has 45 TUs.

If he needs a new knife (normally 1sp in the book), it will cost him 10 TUs. A targe (normally 3 sp) will cost him 30 TUs. Something like a small mirrior is extremely rare. I'd probably dice to see if it was even available. But if it is, it may cost 100 TUs or more when it's base price in the book is 10 sp.
Supplement Four said:
If he needs a new knife (normally 1sp in the book), it will cost him 10 TUs.

And, I'm thinking of throwing in some kind of quick bargaining roll, probably based on Diplomacy (but Traders can use their Profession skill instead). The outcome of the roll will effect the price--somehow. I'm not sure how to implement this yet.
Nialldubh said:
Looks good, its slow, but as you are making metal difficult to get, it makes more sense. Seems realistic enough! :)

What do you mean "slow"? One roll shows how much a character made during the week. Then, he simply buys what he wants.